Canadians stuck in South Africa because of COVID-19 wait for answers

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WATCH: Canadians in South Africa are relying on the federal government to return home. But they say they're frustrated by vague and inconsistent information. – Apr 5, 2020

Canadians, stranded in South Africa because of a lockdown imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, are waiting to hear from the Canadian government when they can return home.

“The biggest thing is just this panic and not knowing,” said Tiffany Woodfield, from Cape Town.

“You’re trying to be strong for your family back home, you’re trying to be strong for the kids,” she added.

READ MORE: Canadians stranded in South Africa by COVID-19 could pay $5K for trip home: government

Tiffany and John Woodfield, from Kelowna, B.C., were on a family trip with their twin 8-year-old sons when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to return home.

They tried to rebook their flights but later that week the South African government imposed a 21-day lockdown, preventing all flights from entering or leaving the country.

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They were effectively trapped in the country.

The Woodfields kept trying to leave and on several occasions spent four hours on hold with Air Canada, only to have the call dropped.

“It’s was like [the film] Groundhog Day,” Tiffany said.

“Every day you get up, check the airlines, you check everything… and then suddenly it shows it’s cancelled.”

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Paul Hoy, from Bowmanville, Ont., described similar circumstances. He is in South Africa on a modelling contract.

As soon as he heard Trudeau’s announcement he reached out to the Canadian High Commission in South Africa. Almost a week later he heard the federal government was trying to organize a flight home and that a ticket could cost $5,000 CAD.

He’s since been told a flight is likely leaving between April 8 and April 10 will cost $3,000 — but that it only gets him to Heathrow airport in the U.K.

“We are responsible for our own tickets from London back to Canada,” he said, “so it could end up being over $5,000.”

READ MORE: What to know if you’re a Canadian stuck abroad amid the coronavirus outbreak

Pat McAllister, also from Kelowna, told Global News that, besides not being told how to get to home from London, he’s not been told how to get to the airport. He said the High Commission told him he and his wife could board a flight in either Johannesburg or Cape Town.

McAllister is currently in Durban, about six hundred kilometres away from Johannesburg. He said his best hope is to rent a car and drive “but there are lots of roadblocks and I’m not really looking forward to that.” He said he hoped the government could organize a flight from Durban.

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Steven Brink, originally from South Africa but now living in Kelowna, is yet another Canadian stuck wondering how to get home.

Brink, his wife, and their two young children were visiting his parents when the lockdown went into effect. He said they’re all staying in their retirement home and that he’s worried to even go and get food, in case he contracts COVID-19 and puts his parents at risk.

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He’s also worried about the cost of getting back home, even with prices being reduced to $3,000 per person.

“This is going to be a very expensive exercise for me to get my family home,” he said from Johannesburg, adding that he would need to get a loan to be able to pay for his family to get back home.

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“Over and above that, I’ve been laid off temporarily, so it’s not like I have can make up that money in the near future.”

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But Brink has at least heard more than the Woodfields have.

They haven’t been told anything about a flight and when — or if — they and their children will be able to return to Kelowna. It was only after speaking with Global News they learned other Canadians have been informed of the flight leaving sometime next week.

“We feel isolated,” Tiffany said.

“We had registered [with the federal government as Canadians abroad], so I don’t know why we were missed,” said John.

The federal government, in statements to Global News, said it is still working with the South African government and airlines to book a commercial flight.

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It has not said why some Canadians have heard and others haven’t, but did mention that flights had returned from several other countries in recent days.

Global News has learned there were more than 2,200 Canadians registered in South Africa and that by Friday, there were just less than 2,000.

The government has not made clear why the number is changing when there is a lockdown in place.

Registering as a Canadian abroad is a voluntary process.


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